Today: June 20, 2024

Leviathan

Leviathan is a Russian film, partly funded by The Russian Cinema Fund and yet is far from being a pro-Russian propaganda film. Indeed one suspects had Putin seen the film before its release it would never have seen the light of day and yet such are the universal themes and stories at the centre of the film it’s easy to view as an essay on the corruption of the world as it is of those which exist in Russia.

Koyla (Aleksey Serebryakov) lives in a small coastal town with his wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova) and son in a house he built himself. But the local mayor Vadim (Roman Madyanov) has other ideas for the land and is determined to pay a low price for it. Desperate to keep his home Koyla enlists the help of his former army friend and now lawyer Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) who claims to have dirt on Vadim that will resolve all the issues. But the wheels of justice turn slowly here and Koyla’s quest is wrought with danger.

Leviathan is never an easy watch, it possesses that innate Tolstoy or Chekhov realist Russian ability to give you early hope only to shatter it in ways not even your deepest, darkest fears could predict. And it yet seems all too easy to label the film as stereotypically Russian. That, thanks in no small part to the role they are currently playing in global affairs, this tragic story could only happen in a country rife with money grabbing and corruption. But crucially the film has its genesis in the United States and the story of Marvin Heemeyer, a man who having lost a zoning dispute took the fight quite literally to the town hall in a modified bulldozer.

There’s nothing quite as satisfyingly Hollywood in Leviathan. Instead director Andrey Zvyaginstev, who heard Heemeyer’s story and was inspired by it, weaves an emotionally, and alcohol, fuelled tale of such a bleak nature that come the end you may well be reaching for the vodka bottle to stave the depression. Because throughout there are references to Job, to men struggling against a cruel world you believe there is hope, that maybe, just maybe, Koyla will have his day. But that title is no coincidence, because Leviathan has many tentacles ready to pounce beneath its glassy surface in order to rip hope from your freezing dead corpse.

Zvyaginstev litters the film with stunning visuals of the ice-cold world. At over two hours there is little here that can be considered superfluous, even scenes that seemingly paint the villain of the piece as a man trying to do the right thing are soon flipped come the final moments. Seeds are planted, from Dmitiri’s arrival onwards that are destined to grow thick and thorny branches to tear at both Koyla and our very souls.

A terrifying and brutally honest indictment of the money-driven, corrupt world we live in, Leviathan doesn’t just put down the little guy, it outright squashes him and is devastatingly compelling as a result.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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Leviathan

It’s rare that a trip to the cinema leaves you reeling from the impact of what’s just happened but that’s exactly the effect of Leviathan. It dropkicks the popcorn out of your hands, smashes your mobile phone to the floor and throws a bucket of ice-cold sea water all over you for good measure. This isn’t a film. It’s an experience.

The premise: a documentary following a commercial fishing vessel and her crew off the coast of New Bedford, Massachusetts, USA. The reality is something altogether otherworldly. This is an hour and a half of dialogue-free avant-garde filmmaking flowing seemingly without restriction as this hunk of metal rocks from port to starboard in the dark open waters of the North Atlantic Ocean.

To say it’s a silent movie would be wrong though, very wrong. After smashing you in the face for not being ready for it, Leviathan crashes into your ears with its mesmeric sound. The sea explodes, the gulls swoop and the fish die in the loud impactive soundscape created beautifully by directors, producers and editors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel.

The point-of-view moves freely between camera crew and fishermen, plunging into the water and then back out on deck again and it’s never clear exactly how or who is filming what you’re seeing. The sustained commitment to some of the shots is astounding, at times feeling endless, lulling the audience into a false sense of security, that you know what’s going on. You don’t.  This is art, moving art, and it’s relentless.

Playing with perspective, it becomes unclear, even, which way is up or down as you’re left simultaneously wanting a moment to end and also bathing in its raw wonder. Whether the film’s title refers to the vessel, the ocean or Mother Nature herself, or all of the above rolled into one, the message is potent. Despite Man’s best endeavours, we exist at the mercy of nature.

This isn’t for the faint-hearted. Not just for the fish guts and summary decapitations but because it’s a full-blooded assault on the senses. Some people become physically uncomfortable, squirming in their seats; so much does the film wash over you, coming in waves, some even fall asleep. As with all art, though, it’s entirely up to the individual how they react.  Sit back, open your eyes and ears and hold onto your seat for this is one of the most challenging and visceral cinema experiences you will have in 2013. Maybe ever.

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